Ivory Coast picked up a vital 2-1 victory over Japan in FIFA World Cup 2014 Group C late on Saturday evening, with Didier Drogba the catalyst for the victory.
The Samurai Blue had taken the lead through Keisuke Honda's excellent strike, but Serge Aurier's crossing wizardry allowed both Wilfried Bony and Gervinho to head home in the second half.
Starting XIs and Formations
Ivory Coast set up in a deep 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation, with Yaya Toure starting from further back and surging forward when space appeared.
Japan formed their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Honda the key focal point in the No. 10 position, Shinji Kagawa on the left and flying full-backs in attack.
The Elephant's Struggle
Ivory Coast looked pretty drab in possession from the off, refusing to string together any sort of rhythm and instead preferring to push the ball into their dribblers' feet and let them go.
Aurier enjoyed vast amounts of space early on by slipping past Kagawa on the flank and receiving the ball on the run, but all of his crosses were wayward and Japan eventually wised up to the move.
Gervinho and Salomon Kalou were being looked to too often to carry the ball upfield, and Toure struggled to drag it through the central zones as he often faced double- or triple-teams.
Bony saw very little of the ball, receiving a paltry 14 passes in the first half of which just two were inside the box. He hit the post from an offside position, but generally had little chance of making an impact.
Bright Blue Samurais
Some of the Ivory Coast's problems were self-made, but some were a product of Japan's well-organised defensive shell and commitment to tracking runners.
They dropped into a very picturesque 4-4-1-1 shape while off the ball and let the defensive line swing low, preventing Gervinho and Kalou from springing the offside trap.
Going forward their technique shone through, with quick touches, fast passes and excellent feet helping work strong positions and goalscoring chances.
Yuya Osako made little impact as a striker—his runs weren't brilliant, and his physical edge is nonexistent—forcing Honda and Kagawa to take more responsibility in the final third. All things considered, they were guilty of overcomplicating things a little too often.
Ivory Coast came out after half-time break with a new formation, switching from 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3.
Serey Die dropped into the defensive line, pushing Aurier and Arthur Boka into wing-back positions and leaving a midfield duo of Toure and Tiote. The front three remained intact, but the wingers slotted inside to play a slightly narrower game.
Nothing really changed, so 10 minutes later Sabri Lamouchi threw on Drogba for Die, effectively declaring his side a 4-2-4 with both Drogba and Bony up front. This time it worked.
The Chelsea legend's first action was to power into the box and back-heel for Gervinho to miss, and minutes later, Aurier's deft cross found the head of Bony for a deserved equaliser. Straight from kick-off CIV seized the ball again and gave it to Aurier, who crossed it in again for Gervinho to head home.
Japan's centre-backs failed one vs. one with more physical counterparts, and the advanced wingers' runs were not picked up.
Tables well and truly turned.
Ivory Coast did superbly to recover from an awful position, and it's no surprise that Africa's biggest modern footballing legend, arriving from the bench, sparked the change.
Japan's passing game, final-third accuracy and cutting edge waned in the second half, and they failed to pick themselves back up after two quick goals against.
The Samurai Blue are up against it to qualify from the group stage now.
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